Friday, January 29, 2010

A Digital Concierge - Repost

Friday again which means I repost something from the archive and since I mentioned this in my panel at dbw I thought it reasonable to repost. It was originally from May 21, 2009.

Authors, writers, illustrators, photographers, etc all need to produce content for publishers but doing so in a world increasingly dominated by technology becomes a challenge. The more technology is interwoven into the creation and leverage of content, the more it becomes clear that pro-actively managing the intersection between content creator and technology represents an imperative for publishers. Publishers want their contributors to focus on content creation not the help desk. As functional responsibilities change within publishing houses, we will begin to see the morphing of the roles of editorial, marketing and promotions assistants into something akin to a ‘digital concierge’

Functional responsibilities are changing within a publishing house not least because the publishing process becomes less linear. It will no-longer be typical that a book ‘commissioned’ or ‘acquired’ sits proudly at the front end of a long sequential set of steps that ultimately lands the book on a shelf somewhere. In the new model, a book may be the last item produced after what may look from today’s perspective like a meandering route to publication. Truth is, there may not be ‘a model’ as publishers become more attuned to how consumers want to interact with content and as they experiment. Finding and engaging with an audience becomes both fractured and expansive and options to interact can seem at odds: facebook versus Myspace or twitter versus friendfeed, and a publisher is unlikely to want their ‘investment’ (i.e. The Author) to be distracted by those considerations. Not only will publishers build these relationships on their authors’ behalf, they will see doing so as an additional content creation opportunity. The ‘traditional book’ may reside at the center of additional supporting material from on-line chat to Powerpoint webinars to audio and video interviews. Of course, the book may also be a secondary rather than primary outcome of one of these publisher/author social communities.

Social networking is a catch-all phrase that can describe many things, but typically we use it to explain the concept of reaching customers via the web; whether the consumer takes specific action – commenting or emailing – thereby involving them with the content, or the creator (author and publisher) pushes interaction using tools like facebook, twitter and myspace. This can all be overwhelming to an author and, left to their own devices, they are likely to be unsuccessful; hence, the concept of a digital concierge.

The job of digital concierge grows in significance as more and more material is introduced to the market via the web. As mentioned above, the web community around an author almost becomes their studio where new material is introduced, discussed and ‘published’. The author will require a digital concierge who will marry and blend the appropriate technology tools so they are not a distraction to the content producer and they compliment the experience of the consumer. There is much to ponder here as trade book content moves to the web and the role of the publisher changes. While the job description for the digital concierge may not be written yet, I see this position as potentially critical to the successful migration from a trade print world to one dominated by social communities.


Mark said...

Nettwerk records and WBR records have in-house technology departments that fulfill this role for their artists.

Book publishers need to 'break-up' with Amazon, hire some technologists, and venture onto the internet on their own.

It is overdue.

tchittom said...

I'm trying to see how the publisher actually contributes anything. Once authors are already doing the social media thing, purchasing their own domains, building their own websites, watching their own metrics, etc. Once authors are already doing this (and who isn't, these days?) then of what benefit publishers?

Anonymous said...

As per this current dialogue about the seismic changes in the publishing model, there's a really good article on Kevin Kelly's blog, the techium, about how informations "wants" to be free.

Monthes after I posted my comment, there was a much better response Prokofy Neva on February 29, 2008 at 9:25 PM

Anonymous said...

techium link is:



Anonymous said...

Great post Michael,

I wonder how this role would sit into a publisher without creating enormous trouble. After all it would require someone who is in a relatively junior role have a lot of control over communication with the outside world. Personally I think that would be great, but some of the companies I know would balk at the idea!

That said, I think the people over at Harper Studio are making hay with this role right now. Their tweeting & Blogging certainly seems to have attracted a lot of attention!


MC said...


Thanks for the note. I don’t disagree that anything like this change will cause difficulty and I have mentioned before that I think publishers really need to establish something out side the mainstream of what they do in order to create something really different. Nothing short of that will break the mold. On the other hand over time - who knows say 10 yrs – functions will migrate and coalesce; which is the natural order of things. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the larger publishers have the luxury of time. In five years, when an established author at big publisher A looks out and sees a publisher with the type of interactive, involved, social program (most of which I can’t even imagine today) they are going to be jealous. That environment is going to look like fun! They are going to want to be a part of that. Perhaps more demanding, but also commensurate with reward. It won’t necessarily be a discussion around what amount of guarantee are you going to give me but it could be about what services, support, engagement, etc. am I (author) going to get that is going to help me build my brand, help me sell more content and importantly give me more professional satisfaction.

So Big publisher A should look out.

myebook said...
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David H. Burton said...

I just wrote about this (and referred back to this post) at my own blog.

"In five years, when an established author at big publisher A looks out and sees a publisher with the type of interactive, involved, social program (most of which I can’t even imagine today) they are going to be jealous." I think Google Wave might help move things along this direction.

It's very exciting!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

While I fundamentally agree with your premise here, I balk a bit at the emphasis on digital. It's not really about the format -- print, digital or whatever comes next -- as much as it's about the reader, putting THEM back at the center of the discussion, and allowing them to interact with the content via whichever channels they prefer. That shift will require a major shift in business model and job responsibilities, not unlike what's happening in the magazine world.

There were some interesting comments at BEA that covered similar territory, and I'm hoping to pull my own thoughts together once I'm done with my current magazine content series.

Thanks for the provocation!

Maria Schneider said...

I agree with Thom. I fail to see what publishers are bringing to the party if this is the new model. Many writers are handling the digital realm quite well without assistance.